Stones discusses mental health and how football’s attitude is changing
Managing your mental health is so important. Everyone in life hides things and keeps things to themselves at times and I think we all need to express how we feel a bit more, when it comes to the mental health side of things, and acknowledge when we need help and not be afraid to seek that help.
It can become a downward spiral quickly when you are in a bad situation and I don’t think anyone deserves to feel like that, so mental health is definitely something which needs to be talked about more.
I have definitely struggled on the mental health side of things at times and I probably didn’t talk enough about it, and that was probably my downfall.
With a lot of things off the pitch, that I know other players will go through as well, they kind of get pushed aside and not recognised in the way they might in a normal job. It kind of gets pushed aside in football because your sole focus is on the football itself. But these things do matter. Personal life and your football life are so important to making you a happy person and making sure you perform at your peak.
It is difficult when you are in the eyes of the world and the whole football society when things are going badly for you because it is so much more magnified, and that is why seeking that help is so important.
We are no different to anyone else. We do deal with things the same. We may learn to cope with things differently to people who aren’t in similar situations maybe but it does hit us the same as everyone else and it is difficult when you are in that situation.
I have come under a lot of scrutiny at times in my career and it is not nice. You learn to cope with it. But I think we live in a negative world, a negative society. One where we are quick to find faults about everything, about anything and about people.
That is a mindset which has been created and often we don’t think about trying to think of the positive things in situations, about people themselves or what has happened.
How can I say it?... We often don’t think to praise or encourage first. It is the total opposite. It is something which won’t be changed for a long time or maybe ever but it is a different way of looking at things.
You can also look at how people respond to you or write things about you and ask yourself: does it really matter? Does it need to be looked at? Does it need to be taken in by you? For me it is about impacting what you can affect, and I have learned not to go on social media, not to read the newspapers and I don’t take it in.
You trust the people you trust and that is the small circle around you and their opinion matters the most. It is about controlling what you can control.
As I mentioned already, I haven’t always spoken as much as I could have around mental health and I have the utmost respect for the guys in the England team that have, and have had the confidence to do that, especially considering the platform that we have. We know the risks and what comes with that so to be able to do it like the boys have, I have only got admiration for them.
It is a powerful message that someone who is known by so many people around the world and has such a big fan base, like we do because of our clubs, to speak out.
We should use that voice in a powerful way to express things that you sometimes might not see or read about when it impacts people in normal life. I think it packs more of a punch when the boys who are role models to so many people come out and speak. It is a powerful message that they have sent out.
Dressing rooms have changed a lot during my career. I don’t think mental health was even talked about that much when I first turned professional. It would not even enter your head to discuss it with team-mates.
I think the fact that it has changed so much just shows that we are evolving and it is a huge step forward.
Within football, it is more respected that these things happen and they do have a big influence and a big effect on the person and the people around the person who is struggling. I just hope it keeps progressing.
I can only speak about here with England and my own club but everyone is open enough to seek out the psychologist when needed. He is always around, watching training, and he knows what is going on during the week and he will have a sense of how you might be feeling, because he knows you on that kind of level.
So it is easier now to get that conversation going, which then might lead to you opening up a bit. But it definitely depends on each individual’s week and things like whether they are playing or not and things like that, because if you are playing then you might be happier than when you are not.
With England, it definitely helps having a manager like Gareth Southgate. The skillset that he has, the character he has, he is very unique. It is an incredible quality that he has, being able to connect with all of us, to connect with anyone who turns up to the camp. Having someone who can provide that advice and knows what to do in certain situations, is great for us to have as players.
Looking at things more generally, when someone is struggling, I think it is the easiest thing to say to them ‘just go and speak to someone’ but I know how hard that is to actually do. So I would probably challenge the people around someone who is maybe not being their normal self, doesn’t seem happy or are showing signs that they are struggling to be the person to make that first move for them.
If you have someone who you sense is having a problem with anything then speak up for them first and offer that support and don’t just take their first answer of ‘I’m ok’ as being ‘ah alright then, he is ok’.
Don’t stop there; ask that follow up question to encourage them to speak, if it feels right to do so. You obviously don’t want to put pressure on them to feel they have to talk if they don’t want to but I would put a different outlook on it. Instead of telling someone to ‘just go and speak to someone’, let’s check in on each other regularly. Let’s really ask how they are doing. Let’s support one another.